Beauty and the Bike

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A view of the DuPage River from the trail, taken last Friday afternoon.

 

There is something richly sublime about mountain biking, valuable to me more than the exercise and physical health that riding a bike brings.  This time of year, I find myself stopping to take in the woods and scenery more than ever, the same trails a totally different place now that the leaves have dropped.  Mixed with the rush and thrill of bombing into ravines, hopping a log, jumping a berm is the beauty of a place that often seems like it is made for me alone.

VZM.IMG_20171208_151928Thank you, God.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.  God reminds me of his blessings each and every day, more evident to me even more in this season of my life, overwhelming when I am surrounded by the wonder of creation.  As I took the pictures that are shared in today’s entry, I literally was driven to my knees in joyous tears.  Is it because I have more to be thankful for right now, I asked, or is it because I am simply more aware?  My heart danced as I laughed out loud in the quiet peace of the woods, happy to enjoy the moments that God was giving to me.

VZM.IMG_20171208_151836Friday’s ride was all downhill or so it seemed.  Believe me, it’s not.  The trail system that I ride regularly is a booger for even a rider with advanced skills, downright scary for newbies.  There was a lightness for me, a fresh heart, an energy that made every challenge to the trail easy.

VZM.IMG_20171208_151854I took these pictures because I wanted to share my favorite place with a new friend, someone who is touching my heart, one of those blessings that helps me see the world like I see the world in those woods.  I sent the pictures to her, let her know that I am thinking of her, then climbed back on my bike for two hours of trail bliss.  Our relationship is as new as the breathless views through leafless trees that I experienced Friday.  I am content.  I have hope.

I rode until the light was too dim in the woods to see the trail.  The beauty of the woods, the quiet, is as peaceful as can be that time of day.  While I slept Friday night, it snowed, my thankfulness amplified knowing that I had taken advantage of the last day to ride outside for a while.

 

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Two weeks in

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It has been nearly two weeks since that day, November 15, the day when 25 years was reduced to a document that certifies the last 25 years did not exist.  Divorce.  I walked away from the courthouse, the feeling of finality  a reality to me.  My life had changed with the pronouncement of a judge, his approval granting what I had waited the past year for.  Out in the hall after the brief, almost too brief, rehearsed to the point of insignificance, hearing, my now ex wife approached me with what seemed like an expression of pity.  She had no tears, neither did I, reached for my hand and squeezed it, wished me the best, told me that she is sorry.  I mouthed what must have been a very inadequate yes as she walked away.  I watched her walk away down the dimly lit, wood paneled hall of the courthouse, strangely thinking of how much her back side had changed since the first time we met.  I want to miss that, but I don’t.

I am relieved, glad that at least the drama of the divorce negotiation is over, my life and her life ready to move on in different directions.  There is a sense of limbo that exists while waiting for a divorce to happen, a nagging, chains that bind any progress.  That time of marriage purgatory needed to exist, I think, as the separation allowed me to process the gravity of the situation and assess just where I was at.  I needed to see that somehow God was blessing me still, would allow me to approach him, that I am still acceptable to him.  I needed to process my grief, my loneliness, some of which I did not know still existed.  I thought that I had already progressed beyond both.

That day, I needed to figure out how I felt.  I did not know.

I took the whole day off from work, not knowing what the day would have in store for me.  As it turned out, I was numb.  I could have functioned and worked that day.  I showed up in the office an hour or so after the hearing, answered a quote request, left the office.  It was pay day.  I went home, paid bills, paid my first maintenance payment, paid another debt that I owed her, marveled that there was still money left over once I was done.  My friend, John, who I had supported by going with him to his final divorce hearing five years ago, took me out to dinner that evening.  We talked about life, talked about what life is going to be like for me as I moved on, shared encouragement as he assured me that life does indeed move on, that it can indeed be blessed.

It wasn’t a bad day.

My phone rang that afternoon, caller ID showing that it was my son.  I fretted.  Would he be calling to express his anger over what had just happened?

“Dad, I hit a skunk with my car last night.  My car stinks.  What do I do?”

Did he even know what had just happened.  I dished out my advice.  That was it.  No mention of the divorce hearing.  There has been no mention since.

It was a different story with my daughter.  Honestly, I wish I had thought of how she would feel.  Selfishly, I thought more about how I was feeling, less about how my children or family would feel.  My brothers, my parents, each reached out to me and let me know that I am in their prayers.  But my daughter is thousands of miles away, on her own in a foreign country, away from the friends who support her.  It was not an easy day for her, as I found out the next morning when she texted me.  She had not slept well and she told me so.  I asked how she is doing.  She asked if it was OK if she tells me how she really feels.  Sure, I said, you can tell me anything.  And she tried to tell me, but I don’t think that she really knows.  She feels like she is in the middle, has felt the impact of living in a dysfunctional family, and she wanted me to know.  Then she asked me how I was feeling.

I am at peace, I told her, and I feel like your mother is at peace.  Not the best answer, and she told me so, told me that her mother is definitely not at peace.  I felt insensitive, but I told her the truth.  A good friend told me that my children will have to learn to deal with this.  I am going to need to move on and not worry about that so much.  They will be OK.

Funny, we moved on from that.  We are going to Florida together this January, will be going to Potter World at Universal Studios together.  That changed the tone just a little!

Last week was my first major holiday as a divorced man.  My son went with me as we travelled a few hours south to visit with my family.  For maybe the first time ever, my son was a perfect travelling companion, made me proud in front of my family.  It was a great day.

I will share more as things develop.  My life changed two weeks ago.  It is different.. and there is so much hope.  Things are happening, fun and happy things, and I like life as it is right now.

Divorce has happened.  Life is different.

Two Days

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WARNING:  I am going to write quite a bit more personally today than I normally do.  Proceed with caution.

FB_IMG_1510540790433As might be evident, I have intentionally avoided talking about my pending divorce here.  Now and then the topic has come up in a blog, but it’s just not something that I have wanted to put out there in this blog.  It’s a challenge to me as there are not too many off switches in my personality, my normally introverted extrovert self has no problem sharing whatever is itching at my soul, my heart an open book.  Anyone who knows me will probably tell you that I am embarrassingly open.  Just ask my children and they will give you an emphatic YES.  It’s the way that I am put together, the way that I have to be, both a blessing and a curse at times.

Part of the reason that I am reluctant to bring up the topic of my divorce here is my faith.  Hopefully, it is evident that I try to live my life in a way that honors God.  I want people to see my flaws, see me as genuine, but I also am afraid of showing a side of me that is contrary to what is expected of a person who wants to be known as a Christ follower, a Christian.  Divorce is a touchy subject when it involves Christians, a decision that can not be made without a whole lot of prayer, study, and talking with friends who also know God.  With me, the last few years (more than just a few) involved just that.  This was not a decision that I or my wife made overnight.  When I asked my wife for a divorce two years ago, I asked in a way that was more of an ultimatum — I need you to change, have dealt with the questions and issues enough that I need to see if you really want to be married to me.  Ultimately, she didn’t.  Say what she wants, but it was just as much or more her decision.  We both gave up.  Frankly, I don’t know who gave up first. When I did give up, I gave her enough reasons to do the same.  Years of disrespect towards me took its toll and I could no longer find a place to stuff it.

For me, I need to know that God is OK with my decision to divorce.  How odd it has felt to pray and ask God if He could bless something that I know full well God does not approve of.  Even more odd is that I could and can see that God is blessing the decision.  The months since our final separation, when we sold our house and moved into our own places, have not been a time of moving away from God.  On the contrary, I felt the wall of pain crumble, the constant stress of living with two people who were toxic to me suddenly taken away.  My walk with God has become constant, my hunger to learn more amplified by the opportunity to read and study, to bask in the quiet.  There has been much needed healing.  I can see it in myself, I can see it in my children (even my son), even see it in my wife. There is no desire to reunite, as we both see that this divorce is something that needs to happen.  We both are at peace, I think.

My son is reaching out to me.  The distance has been good for us.  He texts me, calls me now and then.  Saturday night, he sent me videos he took at the concert he was at, evidence of the influence that I have had on him over the years.  I have been the one to go to concerts with him, ball games, played golf with him as well as plenty of other sports.  I see him trying to mature, a challenge to the males of today in this age of stunted maturity.  There is hope.

And that is what this whole thing is about… hope.

Wednesday morning at 9 AM is the final hearing, the prove up.  Unless something happens to change things, I will be divorced in two days.

The next chapter begins.

Hoop Dreams

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dribble dribble dribble (pause) swish BAM bounce bounce pad pad pad pad

dribble dribble dribble (pause) swish BAM bounce bounce pad pad pad pad

dribble dribble dribble (pause) swish BAM bounce bounce pad pad pad pad

I wonder why my parents never ever said anything to me about the noise I made while shooting baskets in the driveway?  Hour after countless hour, I continued the ritual.  It was an obsession with me, the enjoyment of shooting basketball an exercise that I never tired of.  Even now, I still love it.  And the memory of the large concrete square in front of the family garage, a makeshift particle board backboard attached to the front of the garage roof with brackets.  Any time the was a perfect shot, the basketball smacked loudly off the aluminum gutter underneath the backboard, a loud BAM that reverberated around our neighborhood.  Harry, our lunatic next door neighbor that hated his noisy neighbors, especially during the warm weather months when there were countless ball games on that concrete court, often fought loudly when a foul call didn’t go our way or when the game got rough.  Even worse was when dad added a spotlight, enabling us to play past dark.

Mom and Dad used to sit on the front porch stoop, holding hands and drinking the sweet iced tea that Mom used to brew in a jar on our back porch, watching as my brother and I sparred with Wayne and Mark and Kevin (even my cousin, Phil, always hopeless when it came to sports — but later on quite a hit with the ladies) or whoever else strayed into our neighborhood for a game on our basketball court.  Quite often, they would watch for a while then retreat back inside the house, the sound of Mom playing hymns on the piano while Dad sang.  Those days, it wasn’t embarrassing.  It was just what people in our little community did.  Church was cool.

In my teen years, shooting baskets became a contest with myself for imaginary rewards.  If I made ten shots in a row, then I would get that get that kiss from Edie, a lovely green eyed brunette who I actually did get my first kiss from.  Those imaginary rewards provided motivation that sometimes gave me the courage to make them not so imaginary!  As I hit my upper teens, I upped the ante, ventured out to the street and vowed to asked Tami, my current serious girlfriend, to marry me if I made the shot.  Sure enough, it was nothing but net, slamming even louder into the aluminum gutter after passing through the slightly bent hoop.  I never asked Tami to marry me, an opportunity that I sometimes regret, sometimes am very glad for — she has been divorced twice!

I am about to reenter the dating world after a long hiatus (marriage).  I wonder what will take the place of shooting baskets for me.  Maybe I will rediscover the joy again, shoot baskets at that little court at the condo clubhouse.  The imaginary rewards will be different, I assume.  Maybe not.  Teen or “mature” adult, I still need that kiss.

Hooooo booooyyyy….

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….what did I get myself into?

My friend, Frank, messaged me this morning, asked me if I would be interesting in riding the 2018 Assault on Mount Mitchell with him.  He gave it the old “we are getting the band back together” pitch, saying that he had talked some of the guys we used to ride with to register for the event.  Frank and I have attempted the Assault together before.  I finished once out of three attempts — it’s that tough of a ride.

I guess it’s time to get the old titanium steed out of mothballs.

I registered tonight

Recently, I lost 22 pounds.  Good thing.  I need to start getting ready for this ride NOW.  I didn’t lose the weight for riding purposes but, hey, it’s a bonus!

There and Back Again

There and Back Again is the title of my daughter’s new blog, a blog she created to tell of her adventures while she is in Guatemala for 8 weeks.  My daughter has always wanted to do some teaching overseas, so she leaped on the chance to do that through a college program.

There and Back Again, A Redhead’s Journey

If you visit, you will find a girl who writes with a serious smile on her face, speaks from a heart that belongs to God.  Along the way, you will find out a few things about a 21 year old young woman who also has a heart for teaching and is not afraid of the adventure of travelling to an unfamiliar place.

I like reading about her adventures.  I like just as well how she shares what she believes.  We have spent countless hours talking about our faith, she has learned to believe from her mother, and life has taught her quite a few things already.  Perhaps she will keep blogging.. and I hope she does as it’s nice to see a little more of what is inside of her.  Reading her blog reminds me a little of my own life journey, gets me excited to see her own journey unfold, makes me want to see what she learns.

Give her a visit!

Resurrection

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Old friends never go away.  Sometimes years go by without a visit or thought, but all of a sudden that friend is back, as good as the memories that live with them.  Often times that friend returns a little more dusty than the last time I saw them, but the shine is still there under the dust.

My Univega via Montega was the bike that brought me back to cycling, some 25 years ago now.  The frame is sturdy steel, not terribly heavy but not a lightweight either, set up as a hybrid.  When I first started cycling, my goal was to lose weight, a second surgery to my right knee made it difficult to run long distances.  I would finish a run and immediately had to grab an ice bag to cut the swelling.  Cycling had been prescribed as therapy after my second surgery, an exercise that strengthens the muscles around the joint and helps keep it stable.  Also, I had ballooned to 235 pounds, not exactly healthy for my 6’1″ frame or for my fragile knee.  I changed my eating habits and started cycling in July 1992.  By that November I had gone from 235 pounds to 192 pounds.  That bike carried me along the crushed limestone paths of the Prairie Path and Fox River trail in the west suburbs of Chicago.  I caught the bug quick, soon logging 400 miles or more a week, the motivation fueled by literally watching the fat melt off of my body after each ride.  The transformation was dramatic.

The next year I rode my first 7 day bike tour — RAGBRAI.  I was hooked.  I began riding my bike to work in an effort to balance family time and riding time.  When we bought our first house, roughly 12 miles away from work, my car stayed at home the majority of the time.  A few years after I started cycling, my car blew an engine in November and I didn’t bother to replace it for an entire year (yes, I rode through northern Illinois winters).  My Univega was truly a familiar friend.  We spent a lot of time together.  I kept it clean, maintained it myself, and it rewarded me with flawless performance.

Over the years, other bicycles came into the picture and I rode my Univega less and less.  But I never got rid of the bicycle, partly because of its sentimental value and partly due to the fact that it is truly a nice ride.

I pulled the Univega down from the rafters this afternoon.  My new home is right off the forest preserve paths as well as the Prairie Path.  I need it again.  It’s dusty and dirty, needs a lot of TLC to be rideable again, but it’s time to renew the relationship with my old friend.  It will probably be a slow project getting the Univega back to riding shape, but I may assemble the old parts before I start replacing them, take it out for a ride before cold weather sets in.  The Univega is going to be a winter project, I think.

Old friendships never go away, even when that old friend is a bike.

 

Can’t Fight Crazy

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Wise advice given to me several times yesterday by friends and neighbors — Steve, there’s no sense in trying to fight with a crazy person.  One friend changed the word fight to reason.  I get it.  I really do get it.  In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis said that we know what is decent behavior, we want to be decent, but each and every person fails at some point in every day.  We fail to practice ourselves the kind of behavior we expect from other people.

I am trying not to act like a crazy person.  I am dealing with the crazy person.  I so much want to fight back, but I know my friends are correct.  It really is difficult to not confront this person face to face, fight her, take her on, make her stop.  My friends tell me that I expect her to act like a decent person, in the way I expect a good person to behave, like every person is hard wired to honor what they know is the right way, unselfish.

When I returned early yesterday morning at 4 AM, after taking my daughter to the airport, the confrontation with my rude downstairs neighbor was really eating at me, enough that I slept very little during the three hours I had left to sleep.  I fumed, fought the anger inside of me that wanted to fight back, the guy who wants to be decent warring with the guy who just wants to put on the gloves.  I know what is right.  But I also know that I need to reach some kind of resolution — and that resolution needs to be my own, not hers.  It’s up to my neighbor to solve her own demons.  What I do know is that my neighbor is controlling, I have allowed myself to be controlled, have been tiptoeing around my condo when I don’t really need to.  I thought I was keeping peace, but what I really am doing is enabling my downstairs neighbor’s perpetually bad behavior.

So, I wrote her a letter, knowing that it will solve nothing as far as she is concerned.  But putting my thoughts in writing takes the guy with the gloves out of the equation, allows me to move on.  I don’t need to fight with her.  I only need to live in my condo, not worry so much (within common sense reason) how it affects the numbskull who lives in the condo below me.

I also called the property manager, as well as talked to my next door neighbors.  Each revealed a common theme — my downstairs neighbor has behaved the same way towards each owner of my condo unit.  The property manager assured me that any complaints lodged by my crazy neighbor would be dismissed.  The manager and my neighbors assured me they are on my side.

One thing I am certain of — the woman calls my daughter a whore again, the gloves come on.

My neighbor copied two pages from an old copy of our condo rules, highlighted the word ‘guests’ and ‘excessive noise’, placed the pages in front of my door yesterday.  I responded by taping my letter to her front door.

Therese,

Thanks for greeting my daughter and I in such an unpleasant, rude manner last night.  All I can say is that you should be apologizing for the behavior and attitude that you demonstrated.  I don’t anticipate that you care about good will or else you would not be behaving the way you have behaved since I moved in this past April.  I have lived in apartments, houses, condos, dorm rooms my entire life and have always had excellent relationships with my neighbors.  Sadly, I fear that is not possible with you as it currently stands.  I have never encountered such selfish, childish behavior from any neighbor.  Congratulations on being the first such neighbor that I have ever had.

For your information, the young woman with me (as she kindly explained to you) last night is my daughter.  She slept at my condo for the first time last night.  My daughter is a college senior and is completing her student teaching right now.  The reason why she stayed with me last night is so I could take her to O’Hare airport.  For the next 8 weeks, she will be student teaching at an international school in Guatemala City.  Her flight departed at 5:45 this morning, the reason that we were up at 2:30.  When you so rudely confronted us, we were on the way to my garage to leave for the airport.  It was an excellent time with her, but your behavior certainly could have put a damper on our mood.  I love my daughter, cherish the opportunities to spend time with her, so I do not appreciate someone whose behavior gets in the way of that enjoyment.

I have tried to be as polite and courteous to you as possible, including being careful about what times I use my water and appliances.  When I arrive in my condo, I take my shoes off at the door so I don’t make as much noise when I walk.  So when you yelled out your objection “you are always flushing your toilet”, I was surprised.. and maybe I should not be surprised.  Apparently you have been rude to everyone who has lived in my unit, including the same kind of complaints about flushing the toilet, etc….

Since you have not voiced any objections to my condo habits since last April, I considered them resolved.  Why you decided to voice them so angrily last night, without any discussion or warning, I don’t know.  You certainly had no reason to be angry.

I want to continue to be a courteous and polite neighbor.  I suggest you take the time to discuss your grievances with me in a calm manner.  I will listen and try to change what is possible to change.  Unfortunately, a toilet needs to be flushed, but even that I have tried to limit.  You and your husband are welcome to visit and discuss.

If you can’t deal with living in a first floor condo, may I suggest that you sell your condo and move to a place where you do not have neighbors that live above you?  Otherwise, I ask that we deal with each other kindly.  I do not plan on moving any time soon.

Sincerely,

Steve Henry

Unit G

Kid Week

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My kids are 18 and 21, no longer live with me, so it’s a real blessing when I get the opportunity to spend time with them.  Even better is when I get to spend time with them because they have sought me out.  That’s the way it was this week.

Both are different in their motivation, each unique.  My son likes sports, is on the golf team at the community college he attends, and he likes it when I foot the bill.  The daughter, on the other hand, is like a lot of daughters in that she just wants me to know that she likes me and always makes sure that we spend time together when she is in town.  Of course, she also likes Lou Malnatis pizza and books, so I think that helps her want to see her dad.  I buy and I always read along with her!

This past Sunday and Monday, my son and I travelled to Arcadia, Michigan for a round of golf at Arcadia Bluffs Golf Course.  I booked a room for Sunday night at the Bluffs Lodge, right on the golf course.  As we arrived at the course Sunday evening, we were treated to a spectacular view of the sunset from the bluffs above Lake Michigan.  Our jaws dropped as we drove along the unbelievably beautiful golf course to the club house and lodge, checked our clubs at the bag drop, dropped our things off in the spacious room, then had dinner in the clubhouse restaurant.  The view of the lake and the rosy sunset as we ate dinner seemed to make everything taste better.  The hospitality had already been outstanding, our golf clubs would be stored overnight and on the golf cart ready for us at our tee time the next morning.  Our room overlooked the golf course, and we sat out on the patio adjoining our room to take in the stars on a cloudless night.  In Chicagoland, even out in the western suburbs where we live, the light pollution is too great to really see the stars.  Later on, the moon lit up the golf course outside of the room, a reason to forego sleep just to enjoy the rare beauty.

Sunday and Monday, I had roughly 11 hours of windshield time with my son, spent 4 hours on the golf course with him, ate meals with him, slept in the same room with him.  It was without a doubt the best time that I have had with him in years.

The golf course was amazing.  I suck at golf, but it didn’t matter.  The scenery was worth the trip alone.  And I played the difficult course fairly well, watched my son shoot 2 over for the round.

This morning at 3, I dropped my daughter off at O’Hare airport.  She is on an airplane destined for Guatemala City, a much anticipated 8 week trip to finish off her student teaching.  My daughter will be teaching at an international Christian school there.  I am encouraged at how prepared she is.  We spent last evening together, her first night staying at my place since I moved in.  Of course, there was the Lou from Lou Malnatis pizza.  The evening closed with tea and conversation on the couch, her bags packed in my car.  At 2:30 this morning, the alarm went off, she freshened up and off we went.

Not before my daughter got to “meet” my unpleasant downstairs neighbor.  As we passed her door on the way to my garage, my neighbor barged out of her front door and started barking at us for flushing the toilet.  I told her that she was being rude and to go back to bed.  My daughter, angry but controlled, told her that she was sorry that the flushing toilet bothered her and excused herself as we were on our way to the airport for her Guatemala trip, letting my neighbor know that she was yelling at my daughter.  I had to go upstairs a minute later to retrieve car keys, made sure that I stomped heavily on my way out the door.  The confrontation only dampened our mood for a minute — we only had a few more minutes together and nothing was going to ruin that.

I dropped my girl off at the terminal, helped her carry her three suitcases to the airline counter, hugged her, tears rolling as I walked away.  She texted me a few minutes later, already at her gate.

Good kid week.  Let’s see how it ends — I am having a party at my place Saturday night!